65th Plenary Meeting - General Assembly 74th Session

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14-Sep-2020 00:59:08
General Assembly hears calls for more multilateral cooperation, information sharing to defeat COVID-19, as speakers explain their votes on global health threats text.

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Delegates Take Note of Six Related Decisions Previously Adopted through Silence Procedure, also Select President, Other Officers for Thirty-first Special Session

The General Assembly convened today to hold the first meeting of its thirty-first special session on the COVID-19 pandemic, adopting one decision — and taking note of six others recently approved through the organ’s temporary silence procedure — related to the session’s leadership and other modalities.

Members adopted a draft decision titled “President and officers of the thirty-first special session” (document S-31/L.1) by a recorded vote of 153 in favour to 0 against with 3 abstentions (Armenia, Libya, Syria). By the terms of the text, which was introduced by the representative of Azerbaijan, the Assembly recalled a previous decision to retain the President, Vice-Presidents and Chairs of Main Committees of the Assembly’s seventy-fifth regular session in those same capacities during the special session. It further decided that the members of the Credentials Committee for the seventy-fifth session will also serve in that capacity for the special session.

Registering a reservation to the text, the representative of Armenia underlined the importance of sustaining the Assembly’s focus on the most critical aspects of the fight against COVID-19 through effective, multilateral action. In view of the current situation, she said, the selection of the special session’s President and officers should follow deliberations on other organizational matters, and the Assembly should be mindful of the need to avoid duplication of efforts.

The Assembly took note of six related decisions — adopted in recent weeks through the silence procedure launched in March at the start of the pandemic — which also dealt with the special session’s leadership and organization. The first three, titled “Member States in arrears under the terms of Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations” (S-31/1), “Appointment of the members of the Credentials Committee” (S-31/2) and “Election of the President” (S-31/3), were adopted on 15 July (see Press Release GA/12255 of 15 July). Three other decisions — “Election of the Vice-Presidents” (S-31/4), “Election of the Chairs of the Main Committees” (S-31/5) and “Adoption of the agenda” (S-31/6) — were adopted on 21 July (see Press Release GA/12257 of 22 July).

Citing past precedent, Member States further decided that the observer of the European Union will participate in the special session and that the Holy See and the State of Palestine will participate as observer States.

The Assembly also convened a plenary session of its seventy-fifth regular session to hear additional explanations of vote on a resolution titled “United response against global health threats: combating COVID-19” (document A/74/L.57), which was adopted on 11 September (see Press Release GA/12262 of 11 September). By its terms, Member States called for stronger international cooperation and multilateral efforts in handling disease outbreaks, including by sharing timely, accurate and transparent information, exchanging data and sharing materials needed for research and development.

The representative of Hungary, associating herself with the European Union, described human health as a top priority while also noting that it is up to Governments to simultaneously tackle the many socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she recalled concerns raised by her delegation upon the adoption of the Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, held in September 2019, noting that she would have preferred a more neutral reference to that document in today’s resolution.

The representative of the United States voiced his delegation’s support for the text, drawing particular attention to its references to transparency and accuracy of information — which are essential for stemming the spread of COVID-19. In some places around the globe, information has been curtailed, people have been intimidated or harassed, and freedom of expression has been suppressed. He also expressed regret that the resolution’s language on the need to protect and promote human rights was not stronger. Failures by China and the World Health Organization (WHO) at the pandemic’s outset have affected everyone, he stressed, recalling that the United States recently withdrew from the latter and therefore does not concur with the resolution’s references to WHO.

The representative of Liechtenstein welcomed the resolution’s call for greater multilateralism and international cooperation in tackling the pandemic. The United Nations plays a leading role in coordinating the global response, but the outcome of the extraordinary summit convened by the Group of 20 (G20) countries should feed into, and be closely aligned, with the United Nations response. His delegation would welcome a stronger, more concrete commitment from the G20 countries in that regard and would have liked to see that referenced in today’s resolution.

The representative of Iran, noting that his delegation abstained in the vote, recalled that it supported the Assembly’s recently adopted omnibus resolution on the fight against COVID-19. Adopting one comprehensive resolution to that effect, not two, would avoid the adoption of parallel documents. Noting that today’s text was introduced during a period when delegations were unable to meet to discuss it or present their views, he cited dissatisfaction on the part of several Member States. Several operative and preambular paragraphs fail to adequately address the economic concerns of many developing States. Moreover, the resolution lacks even a single reference to the impact of “unlawful, inhumane” economic sanctions imposed by some countries on others during the pandemic and ignores calls to that effect from the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and others.

The representative of Djibouti, noting that his delegation voted in favour of the draft resolution, said it underlines the critical importance of developing a common understanding of the fight against COVID-19. It also seeks to build solidarity, help countries “build back better” and ensure that no one is left behind, he said.

The representative of Syria said his delegation voted against the resolution as the procedures leading to its adoption do not “hold water”. Many Member States remain unconvinced, particularly in light of the parallel omnibus resolution that emerged from long, constructive and inclusive negotiations — which was regrettably not the case with today’s text. Disassociating himself from the resolution, he warned that it will undoubtedly burden the Assembly with duplicative work that does not enjoy consensus. He also echoed concerns that the resolution lacks references to the negative impacts of economic sanctions and rejected language paying tribute to the work of the G20 — some of whose members impose such sanctions — and the biased, politicized work of the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions.

The representative of the European Union, noting that COVID-19 remains an unprecedented challenge, said some of the elements in today’s resolution are already outdated, which raises concerns. Her delegation would have preferred more in-depth consultations and a timeline allowing for a more inclusive process, as well as more explicit support for a global ceasefire, stronger language on human rights protections, acknowledgments of the need to respect personal data and references to the protection of biodiversity.

The representative of China, speaking in exercise of the right of reply in response to the statement delivered by the United States delegate, said the latter misused the Assembly as a platform to spread its “political virus”. China undertook timely and comprehensive measures at the pandemic’s onset and brought COVID-19 under control quickly. Furthermore, it shared scientific information — including the virus’ genetic sequencing — without any delay and lent support to other countries suffering from outbreaks. Meanwhile, the United States — “the most medically advanced country in the world” — now has the most cases of any nation and is attempting to shift blame. Warning Washington against politicizing the virus and engaging in stigmatization, she said such actions “will not bring back the time and lives it has lost”.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.

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